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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Youth are our future, not pawns in political competition

Edmund Burke, 18th century political theorist and philosopher wrote; “Tell me what are the prevailing sentiments that occupy the minds of your young men,[and women] and I will tell you what is to be the character of the next generation”.

The future is not some indistinct unknowable property. We are all involved in the active construction of the future. Through policies or actions we enable or obstruct the thriving of our children and shape our destiny. What our children eat and how the learn determines our place in the global productivity league table.

Over 80 percent of Kenya’s population is aged below 35 years and the median age is just 19 years. If you doubt these statistics, take a close look at the faces of Kenyans who swarm political rallies. If you are still not convinced take a walk on the streets of the cities and towns of this great land.

Alvin Toffler, American futurist and author of Future Shock, argued persuasively about why youth must participate in the present moment. Toffler wrote; “The secret message communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they — at some distant point in the future — will take over the reigns. Yet the fact is that the society is not running itself nicely… because the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties”.

Politicians have exhorted the youth to register and vote in the 2017 elections. The imperative to register has been unanimous across the ethnic political divide – Kenya’s future is in the hands of the youth. The electoral power of the youth is consequential. For instance, about 55 percent of Nairobi’s population is between 18 and 35 years. But not to think of youth beyond voting would be tragic.

The problems that face Kenyan youth are complex and urgent. Our schools fail too many young people. Labor participation among youth is less than 40 percent. Majority of youth are unskilled, unemployed, underemployed and underpaid. The ranks of working poor youths are swelling rapidly.

Policy makers and donors, without shame or remorse, continue to promote wrongheaded interventions in the name of youth empowerment. For example, there is little evidence that youth funds are working. There is also a growing fantasy that somehow agriculture and entrepreneurship are the panacea for youth unemployment. Moreover, the current wave of TVET proliferation plans is not informed by skills gap or labor market needs.

According to Burke, “the arrogance of age must submit to be taught by youth.” Alvin Toffler’s warns that to imagine that we can run our society without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile.

The youth have exemplary passion and creativity, and are enthusiastic about being part of the solution to the myriad problems we face as society. They are crying out for a chance to get involved, beyond voting.

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